Music Meets Wireless Mesh Network: The Sonos Digital Music System

The Sonosnet Mesh Network

Sonos does wireless a bit differently from your standard 802.11x network, which lets the Sonosnet system overcome some distance limitations. In standard WiFi, there is one centralized access point and range is limited to the distance from it. In the Sonosenet each ZP is, effectively, acting as an access point; signal is bounced from ZP to ZP, creating a 'mesh' of radio signals. In theory, if the WiFi signal only carries 75 feet, you can put four ZPs 50 feet apart and, effectively, have a range of up to 225 feet from the first ZP. Each ZP acts as a repeater of sorts, bouncing the signal from one to the next.

We were unable to test the actual distance limit, but as is usually the case "your mileage will vary", based on the construction of your location, the number of walls the signal must go through, and so on. In principle, the more ZPs you have, the stronger the mesh signals will become. If your goal is distance, multiple ZPs arranged sequentially could distribute a very strong signal over a linear distance many times greater than that supported by standard WiFi.

Although the SONOS transmissions are based on 802.11g protocols, the use of the hardware in a mesh network increases the distance that the network can cover, according to the company. The coding used by Sonos is proprietary, and doesn't communicate with standard 802.11x. equipment.

Zone Players can be used as network switches - with the four switch ports built into each ZP, their potential use in a network is worth considering. We'll look at this a bit later in the review.

Media - Stand And Deliver

The Sonos Desktop Controller can get music from as many as 16 different network devices. The setup screen, shown here, clearly displays the options.

In addition to the sources available over a network, Sonos Desktop Controller also comes with a small list of Internet Radio stations. The list was woefully small, but stations can be added by linking to the station you want to add (using your web browser), and copying the address into the Desktop Controller.

The computer that I used to test the Desktop Controller on had no music on it, so I used Microsoft Media Player to rip two CDs. Once the CDs were copied, the Sonos Desktop Controller was able to discover and add the CDs to its playlist.

I started the same tracks from the ripped CDs a few seconds apart on the two ZPs, and the audio quality on both was very good. Similarly, playing two entirely different audio selections worked without any perceptible problems on both ZPs. In addition, I played the same Internet radio stream on the two ZPs, without any quality issues (other than the typical occasional low quality of an Internet radio stream.)

In addition to media on the network and on the local computer, the ZP is capable of playing music from an external source, using a pair of RCA jacks. If you're looking to play an IPod or walkman over the network, however, you'll need a 2.5 mm to RCA adapter.

The volume control was smooth, easily modulating from low volume to high and back down again. Additionally, when first starting the Desktop Controller, if you instruct the ZP to start at high volume, the volume will start low and ramp up. We thought this was a useful feature, preventing a loud blast and, potentially, sparing both speakers and eardrums from damage.

Desktop Controller provided a quite useful listing of media activity. With our first zone installed, and a ripped CD playing, the display looked like this:

When the second ZP was added, it was shown on the Zones panel. Selecting the other zones showed what was being played, and provided options for the zone.

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